The Shepherd and the Sheep: Restore My Soul

Wild Garlic in Bloom

My family and I will be at Family Camp this weekend, so I am reposting for this week.  Next week, I will be posting  something I wrote for 9/11 last year.  Please have a safe and sober Labor Day weekend.

Oh Lord you call my name

Like a shepherd in a field.

You use your rod and staff

When my spirit needs to yield

But my ears are deaf with busy noise

And your prodding is ignored

So I wander far from your sweet voice

And my soul is not restored.

Give me ears to hear

Give me eyes to see

I want to be obedient

But I am struck with fear.

I need courage to walk,

I need patience to stay

Restore my soul with living streams

Oh God please draw me near.

Restore my soul,

Restore my soul,

Good shepherd come and lead me home

Restore my soul

Read the Directions: Do Not Over Inflate

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:1-5 (NIV)

I have played a few different sports over the years, and in that time I have inflated a number of balls.  Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs.  They all have the same thing in common – they should not be over inflated.  Several things can happen and all of them are bad.  Over inflation can stretch the ball out of round, cause leaks and weaken the seams, all of which make the balls useless for their respective sports.  Imagine what overinflating can do to an ego.

God has designed us to work the right way.  Just like a soccer ball is designed to cut through the air when it is kicked or thrown, we are designed to work a certain way.  If we are over inflated, we won’t fly right.  We will be off balance, wobbly and inaccurate.  We can also be under inflated.  We can fall flat and unresponsive.  On the one hand we can have a view of ourselves that ignores our limitations.  We see ourselves as better than we are and even worse, better than others.  On the other hand, we can have a diminished view of what God has created us to be.  We are blind to the abundant life He can produce in our lives.  Somewhere there is humility that refuses pride but engages the fullness of life in Christ.

It is easy to get over or under inflated.  In our culture of narcissism, over inflation seems to be the norm.   We are even taught to talk ourselves up and say positive things about who we are, whether they are true or not.  Plenty of the popular talk shows are based on the “You are Special” appeal to their audiences.  They sell them on ideologies that don’t demand true change of character, only a change of perspective. You are a princess because you believe you are.  Nonsense.  There is a great gap between your belief defining the truth and the truth defining your belief.

It is just as easy to become under inflated.  Pride breaks people, whether it is the proud one or the ones who got in their way.  That brokenness can begin paterns of thinking that deny the image of God in His creation.  It is this brokenness that allows people to go into self-destructive behavior, wrecking themselves and their relationships.  Under inflated people get stuck, living flat and empty lives.  This is not the abundant life God calls us to.

There is a level of inflation that puts in the right place with God and man.  We are not full of ourselves, but what He has put in us.  We understand this, so we have no desire to fill up on anything other than what He supplies.  This gives us the ability to fly right and suffer the blows from the world without being punctured or falling flat.  When God is at the heart of what we believe about ourselves we can understand our brokenness and the hope for wholeness with confidence, not arrogance or self-pity.

I pray that God helps me see when I am trying to over inflate.  I hope that my friends and family will, in love and gentleness, point out when I am being full of myself instead of the God who loves me.  I pray that God will guard me from losing air, limiting my expectation by my brokenness instead of His power to heal and renew.  Lord help us be filled with you and nothing else. Amen.

Read the Directions: Please Wash Your Hands

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. – Psalms 24:3-5 (NIV)

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV)

There is a Seinfeld episode where Jerry is on a date at a restaurant when he runs into the chef in the bathroom.  When the chef, Papi, leaves the bathroom, he does so without washing his hands.  Given Jerry’s phobic tendencies about germs, hilarity ensues when Papi brings their food to the table.  I have to admit my own unease with that kind of situation.  There are appropriate times and places for cleanliness, and preparing food for others certainly fits the bill.

When discussing salvation, I have heard the phrase, “You don’t have to clean up for a bath.”   The idea is that since God will clean you up in the work of salvation that you don’t need to clean up your sin first.  This is a true and correct perspective because we cannot clean up our own sin.  But once saved, we can maintain cleanliness.  It is one thing to ask someone to wash their hands before preparing food at a restaurant, but can you imagine if they had to take a shower every time they came back into the kitchen?

We need to be clean.  It is healthy, makes us feel better and certainly is considerate for those around us with sensitive noses.  In the same way, purity of spirit is healthy, makes us feel better and gives us the ability to “consider others as more important than ourselves.”  There is a cleansing we are given and there is a cleanliness we maintain.  One we receive that removes the stain of sin and one helps keep us from sin.

Too often we wait for the bath.  We wait until the dirt and grime of un-confessed sin has built up and the Spirit convicts us to seek cleansing.  Been there, done that (more than once).  By the grace and mercy of God, we are forgiven and made new, but maturity and purity ask us to grow strong and true so that we remain clean.  We all fall.  We all come short, but in the pursuit of holiness, we can find ourselves falling less and coming closer to the mark.  A daily discipline of cleanliness can help us in this pursuit.

Confession and repentance are the cleansing steps we take toward purity.  When we make them a daily discipline, we set ourselves apart for something better than a cycle of deprivation and redemption.  This is the life I want and hope for and struggle after.  This is the life God’s holiness calls me to.  This is the life God gently reminds me of in the moments I need a bath.  Lord, help me to be holy as you are holy.  Give me clean hands and a pure heart.  Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: David’s Reality Check

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”  – 2 Samuel 12:1-7a (NIV)

David was a shepherd at heart and it was the pasture that prepared him for the tasks God set before him later in life.  He learned to be brave as a shepherd protecting the flock from lions and thieves.  He learned to be watchful to spot strays and the aforementioned predators.  It is likely that the Psalmist developed his gift with song before an audience of sheep.  All of this did not stop David from behaving like the lion and the thief.

David had forgotten too much about caring for the flock and had become what he hated most.  Nathan’s story cut David to the heart quickly and effectively, taking him back to those long days and nights of vigilance and care for the sheep of his father.  I wonder if David thought back on his time guarding those simple animals with bitter tears and regret.  It was undoubtedly one of his lowest moments, but altogether necessary.

We all need a Nathan in our lives who can remind us who we are supposed to be when we are being something else.  God has called us to be sheep and shepherds – to be both led and followed.  David became so defined by his status and position that he forgot who he belonged to and followed his own passions.  He also forgot that he was a shepherd and should have been looking out for Bathsheba and Uriah.  We need to keep both roles in perspective as we move forward in life.

The Good Shepherd leads us with perfect love, so if we follow Him we will always be where He wants us to be and where we need to be.  If our eyes are on the needs of those God has put in our care to shepherd, we will be less defined by the things of this world and more defined by the things of God.  When we are fully trusting in the Good Shepherd to meet all of our needs, we can be used by Him to meet the needs of others.  This is the beauty and power of the flock.  It is the intersection of “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24) and “Take care of my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

Reality is not what we know; it is what we are discovering in our journey with God.  Every now and then we need a reality check like David.  We need to be reminded in a clear and honest way that we are forgetting our place as His sheep.  I pray that I will listen when the shepherd calls.  I pray that I will not begrudge the prods and pulls from His rod and staff.  I pray that I will be a better sheep and in doing so, become a better shepherd.  But thank God for His grace when I don’t.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Stray Sheep

I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. – Psalms 119:176 (NIV)

I have been lost before; lost in such a way that I had no hope of finding my way to safety on my own.  Only the effort of someone else seeking me out and finding me brought me back to safety.  I don’t remember the incident, but I have heard the story from my parents a number of times.  It involved a grocery store, three other siblings keeping my mother’s attention and my own overzealous curiosity.  My mom said when she found me, I was walking with one of the young ladies who worked at the store, looking for my family.

There are dozens of passages in scripture about sheep and many of them refer to them being lost.  It seems that sheep are prone to wander, much like curious children in grocery stores.   This is where the shepherd comes in; lost sheep need finding, and once found need watching. They are not independent or resourceful creatures, needing companionship, care, guidance and protection.    I find that I am no less the child to God that I was to my mother in the grocery store.  My curiosity draws me away from the flock to unsafe places, and it is only the shepherd’s patient searching that finds me and brings me back to the fold.

It is comforting to know the man after God’s own heart struggled with the same issue.  The warrior poet was also a lost little lamb and his prayer in the passage above rings with hope.  He fervently believed that his shepherd would seek him out and that he would recognize the shepherd’s voice when he called.  That is the discipline I desperately need to strive after; an ear to hear my shepherd’s voice.  I long to have the maturity and wisdom to hear His voice above all others and avoid the wandering altogether.  I look forward in hope to the day that I am content to rest in His pasture, but that day is not yet here.  Until then, I am grateful that my Shepherd knows me and searches me out when I stop listening to His voice.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Introduction

A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3

The scriptures are occupied by numerous shepherds.  From Abel, the favored son of Adam, to Abraham wandering from Ur; from Jacob earning the right to marry to Moses learning the right way to lead God’s people, shepherding has been an underlying theme in God’s history with His people.  Why does God hearken to the relationship between shepherd and sheep so often?  Why does He use such ignoble beasts to represent His children?  What does it mean to be people of His pasture?

David wrote psalm after psalm with pastoral themes.  Isaiah’s prophetic writings are strewn with this same imagery.  Ezekiel commits a complete chapter to shepherds and sheep and what God intends for both.  Finally, Jesus reveals Himself as the Good Shepherd to His disciples.  It is obvious that God wants us to get this relationship settled in our minds and hearts.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the more famous scriptures in the world.  It is the lyrical picture of our heavenly shepherd guiding us through life, the terrain of this world, and a reminder of all that the shepherd provides.  David makes the case that the life of the sheep is dependent on the shepherd for sustenance, protection and contentment.

For the next few weeks, we will look at some of these writings on shepherds and sheep and search out ways to be content, secure and fulfilled in the pasture of God’s love, grace and mercy.  We are people in need of a shepherd and the Good Shepherd does not rest in calling his wandering sheep back to the comfort of His care.

Reconciliation: There Are No Untouchables

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.  – Matthew 8:1-3

I am not sure if many people realize what a sanitized society we have here in the US.  Filtered water, hand cleanser and stores dedicated to bathroom supplies make being clean a commodity.  We use air fresheners and deodorizers to eliminate the evidence of atmospheric unpleasantness.  Our laundry detergents get out the stains, our dishwashers break down cooked on food and our restaurants have grades on their sanitary conditions.  It is our meager way of trying to control our environment and maintain the appearance of cleanliness, but it has been tried before.

The Israelites had gone down that same road when Jesus walked among them.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were so intent on the appearance of cleanliness that they missed opportunities for a deeper cleansing from the Messiah.  He was among them – the prince of peace, the wonderful counselor, the Son of God – and he wanted them to understand and be reconciled to his heavenly Father.

Jesus does two amazing things in this story.  He heals a leper and he touches a leper and it is important to remember in what order.  In His day, touching a leper was against the law and would make Him unclean in the sight of the religious leaders.  This didn’t stop Jesus.  Instead of requiring the leper to be clean before he can come to God, God comes to the leper to make Him clean.  This is an astonishing and revolutionary change for the religious leaders watching this encounter.  It is no less astonishing and revolutionary for us today.

Maybe you are the leper and need that touch from Jesus, but you feel as if you are unclean and don’t deserve His touch.  You haven’t stepped forward in faith and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”   There is no other way to be reconciled to God but by Him entering into our mess and cleansing us from within.  It is only by the work of His Holy Spirit that we become whole and holy people, so ask for His cleansing touch on your life.

Some may find themselves relating to the Pharisees and Sadducees (picture me raising my hand), having been told the rules and regulations of a proper Christian life and working hard to maintain a manmade standard.  It is an unforgiving system that requires much, and produces little. Legalism is a leprosy of the mind and heart and Christ can reach the deepest parts of both and make them clean.

For now, the job of reaching out to the unclean and unwanted of the world is ours.  We are the hands of Jesus reaching out to touch the unsavory of the world and that isn’t always easy for us. If you are like me, there is a group of people you have a hard time relating to or accepting.  They make us uncomfortable and so we avoid them.  We may not even know why we react like we do.  Regardless of what group you are thinking of, we all need to ask the same question: Is there anyone that Jesus wouldn’t have touched if they had been in the leper’s place?”  I say the answer is “No.”  If we want to be like Jesus, we have to learn how “perfect love casts out fear” so we can reach out to whomever He brings our way.

Pray that God will give you the opportunity to reach out to someone who needs a touch from Jesus.  Ask Him to work in and through you to reconcile to Him those who have slipped through the cracks of our sanitized world.  Be the hand of Jesus reaching out with love because He is willing.

Hammer and Nail: A Poem

While it is the Christmas season, it is also cold and flu season; we are celebrating both in the Yeager home.  This has caused some delays in posting a new blog entry, and I apologize.  I hope that you will forgive me re-posting an entry that I initially posted during the Easter season, but certainly relates to Christmas.  May you and yours be blessed as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Hammer and Nail

Muscled hands, calloused and rough,
Work with care and a gentle touch.
Tree to timber with saw and stone;
Through patient skill a form has grown.
A stable manger of humble scale,
Put together by hammer and nail.

A babe is born in Bethlehem;
A wooden manger a bed for him.
Babe becomes child, child becomes man;
The Carpenter’s skill flows through His hands.
Left His home on a long, hard trail.
Earning His keep by hammer and nail.

Love has led Him to a lonely hill;
The Cross His burden for doing God’s will.
The mockers taunt, the angry yell,
Those sinners He would save from hell.
A slaughtered Lamb to rend the veil.
Hung on the Cross by hammer and nail.

I strike a blow each time I fail;
Hand and foot, hammer and nail.

by Chris Yeager

Handling Brokenness Part 3: Plank-sightedness

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

When I was in the military we had inspections on occasion.  You always wanted to make a good impression during inspections because it helped officers and NCO’s to remember your name and it kept you out of trouble.  One of the tricks you learn is to stand as close as you can in ranks to the worst dressed soldier.  There are always a few who don’t polish shoes, iron shirts or keep their hair trimmed.  By comparison, you will always look much better. 

The only problem is that outward appearance isn’t the only thing that counts in being a soldier.  In fact, some of the NCOs and officers were willing to let things go during inspections because they knew how good the soldier was at his job.  His skills and work ethic were far more important than how nice of a crease he had in his shirt.  The other problem was that the more experienced inspectors did not compare you to the man next to you; they compared you to a set standard and that usually revealed more flaws than judgment by comparison.  In the end, it was far better to ignore how everyone else looked and just work toward the standard.

It is very easy for us to see God as an inspecting officer checking us for cleanliness and orderliness, His good little soldiers putting on proper appearances.  We may even convince ourselves that we look pretty good compared to some of our comrades in arms.  Unfortunately that can lead to a false sense of accomplishment.  There is only one standard for the Christian and that is Christ.  One of the reasons that Jesus shares this passage about specks and planks is to remind us that we change the world by changing ourselves, not by trying to change everyone else.  He is also reminding us to have a humble perspective about where we are on our journey toward being like Him.

The comfort for all of us is that God sees us through His Son, unblemished and whole, as the children of God we can be.  But He does not leave us to our own devices; He gives us a drill sergeant in the Holy Spirit to constantly remind us of the standard we are working toward – Jesus Christ.  Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to those around you; you won’t see well anyway with that plank in your eye.  Don’t bother trying to fake it; you can’t satisfy God anymore than His Son.  Instead, do all you can to listen to the Holy Spirit who disciplines us for “the race marked out for us,” and we will all look like Jesus at the finish line.

Handling Brokenness Part 2: Whitewashed Tombs

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 (NIV)

I know – not a very cheery passage to open with, but give me a chance. It is clear from this warning from Jesus to the Pharisees, and many others like it, that He was not pleased with how they were representing Him and His Father in heaven. They had pillaged worshippers of God in the temple courts, they had so convoluted the interpretation of the laws that they spent more time arguing about them than helping God’s children and they had lost sight of their own brokenness.

The Pharisees are the repeated example of where a religious, legalistic life will take a person. All glitter; no gold. Whitewashed tombs. There are plenty of us out there right now heading down the same path the Pharisees trod and Jesus is warning us. Each time we bristle at someone questioning our holiness, every time we deny any need on our part, every time we hold out our good deeds for others to see and admire we build the walls thicker and paint them whiter. When the world has wounded us, but we don’t want anyone to see us as weak; when our hearts are broken and we put the mask of contentment on to hide the pain; when we clothe ourselves with rationalizations to cover the sin in our lives – we are getting darker and closer to death on the inside.

There is another incident earlier in Matthew that gives us incite to how we can avoid this condition: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:14-15 [NIV]) I don’t know about you, but I have to be careful what I am teaching my children about what it means to be a good Christian. When I tell them to be strong or tough, am I teaching them to be like the Pharisees? When I am telling them to be “appropriate,” am I teaching them to love God within a box? Am I showing the same level of excitement and pride for their Spiritual successes as I am for those gained by physical prowess or innate skills? I think the problem is that we spend too much time teaching children to act like “grown ups” and not enough time teaching them how to be wise.

In the end we have to remember that in God’s eyes we will always be children. This is important if we want to experience healing in our lives because Children very seldom hesitate to let someone know that they are hurting. While they may not always like the cure, most children will still run to mom or dad with a skinned knee or hurt feelings. Maybe that is where my children need to learn about being strong – the part where they get cured. Maybe I need to be more like my daughters in my life with God. Maybe I need to learn to cry when I get hurt. Maybe I need to be brave when my Father tells me to hold still while He does His healing work. Maybe I need to be more like a child. Let the healing begin.